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Contempt, Jennifer Soong


Jennifer Soong

ISBN: 9781915049018

Published: 22/11/21

Season Five Pamphlet Series



What poet worth their salt has not wondered if their craft matters, what poets are for? What poet feels that even in those rare occasions when their work is celebrated and recognized they have been misunderstood; that one may in fact ‘have no friends / in poetry’? What poet (or most people I suspect for that matter) has not wondered about the value of work at all, especially in a time of the most pervasive and egregious expropriations? I love the jagged, defamiliarizing syntax of these poems of an otherwise high, even classical diction, a diction possibly modelled upon (translating?) Sappho, after whom they are dedicated. And I wonder in what ways Sappho was contemptuous and what (woman) poet can afford not to be to do their work, where ‘poetry... that beauty / of contradiction... does not solve the / desire for consistency... / ...between the woman... / and the woman’s work... only this... / ... is devotion’. In Contempt, Jennifer Soong dramatizes one of the key problems of our time, and indeed any time, which is how to reorganize the (negative) affects structuring intersubjectivity and thus conditioning our capacity to act in a common interest among others. This starts with direct address, with a you marked by a grammar of suffering different than I. Which is to say, it begins with seemingly irresolvable, unaccountable, asymmetrical inequality, and a meditation on how any injustice can be repaid where ‘no money can pay these blooming evils back’. Just as importantly, it begins with lyric’s aneconomy as a locus where (negative) affect is made available for critical synthesis, or if not critical synthesis for a working through prosodically (through stress and sound). A place of impasse where ‘I will not deplete the world for myself / I will not deplete myself for the world’. An interruption of the vicious circle where ‘one woman’s pain can despise / another’s belies common truth’.

- Thom Donovan


Contempt is a poem occupied by nature of reality, by the competing forces of money and elemental life. A wintery, evocative poem of bleak edges and porous silhouettes, Soong’s work has a biting title that belies a genuine trust in the natural world’s transformative powers. With a telescopic perspective, Soong reveals the elapsing motion of a Lucretian environment, whose seismic flow washes over and undoes the fixed meanings of capital’s ineluctable instruments. Money dissolves back into ‘leaves’, into water, coins are swallowed into the liquidity of natural flux. Against capital’s hollow indices, then, Soong’s only guarantee is to guarantee nothing, to render a dark, frosty force of natural sublimity that remains without equivalence and beyond exchange: ‘true to nothing like water’.
- Connie Scozzaro


Syllabically dense and intellectually expansive, Contempt moves across abstract time and landscape, driven by a plural voice, disinterested in proper names or identifying psychological features, giving each phrase enough space to face up to a nagging sense of existential emptiness before folding into the next phrase, which may or may not traverse history, may or may not blur into the natural world, may or may not congeal into the sound of a person. Contempt is a wide-scoped, strange, careful, ambitious poem.
- Steven Zultanski




About the author

Jennifer Soong is the author of the full-length collections and chapbooks Near, At (Futurepoem '19), When I Ask My Friend (DoubleCross Press '21), Contempt (SPAM Press '21), and Suede Mantis / Soft Rage (Black Sun Lit, forthcoming '22). Born in New Jersey, she holds a BA from Harvard and a PhD from Princeton. She currently lives and teaches at Oxford.

Contempt, Jennifer Soong

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